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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 



Barrage, Review by Siraj Syed: Exquisite ennui

Barrage, Review by Siraj Syed: Exquisite ennui

Some exquisite nature photography cannot save this Luxembourg-Belgium-France co-production from recurring ennui. A wafer thin story about three generations of women, Barrage sticks to its theme, though it moves at snail’s pace. Previewed at a Mumbai Academy of Moving Image (MAMI) screening for members of its film club, the film is in French language and has English sub-titles. Barrage in French means dam/block/barricade, not quite the English meaning. Don’t expect a barrage, à l’anglais. It’s a relevant title, to be sure, considering a lot of action in the second half takes place at a small lake in Northern Luxembourg.

Elisabeth, a woman in her 50s/60s, her daughter Catherine (in her 30s) and grand-daughter Alba (pre-teenager, played by Themis Pauwels: The New Adventures of Aladdin, Suite, Française, Anna, Chubby) form the core of the story. Grandma is a tennis-buff and out to coach the young girl into winning championships. Mother lives in Switzerland and if you are alert, you might catch the fact she is a chorus singer. In her youth, she too was trained in tennis by her mother, but turned out to be a disappointment. Living a bohemian life, she had sexual encounters with several men, resulting in pregnancy.

So wild was her world that she could not say for certain who her daughter’s father was, and ran away from home, to evade the stigma of a fatherless daughter, something that would seriously tarnish the skeletal family’s reputation. She keeps writing letters to her daughter, but gets no replies. Finally, ten years on, she lands-up herself, to spend some quality time with her, who last saw her mother when she was little more than a baby.

Barrage would perhaps make an interesting short story. As a film, Marie Nimier and director Laura Schroeder’s script is only mildly so. Schroeder uses techniques like illustrating her dialogue after one or two shots of the first visual and framing her lens leaving out articles of reference, which are revealed only a scene or two later. Such tropes give the film a superficial art-house film ambience.

Laura Schroeder (Senteurs, Double Saut, The Treasure Knights — The Secret of Melusina, Blurred Borders) was born in Luxembourg. She came up with the original idea of the story a few years ago and then co-wrote the script with the French novelist Marie Nimier.

The film got funded by the Luxembourg Film Fund, as well as the Belgian Wallimage.

Schroeder says that the best advice she ever received was, “If you have the slightest doubt about the take you just did, do it again. And again and again until it feels right.” She could do with a little more implementation of the words of wisdom.

Mother and daughter (real life Isabelle Huppert, 64, of The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby and Lolita Chammah, 34: Story of Women, Farewell, My Queen, Cherry Pie, in their third joint foray together) are shown grappling with loneliness and sorrow, in turns, and, often, simultaneously. Having made this point early on, the film then refuses to make progress to anything more substantial. Dazzling trees and attractive lake/dam visuals do not compensate for the lack of a solid script.

It is a women’s film, in many ways, with four female characters (the fourth is a girl named Agathe, Alba’s school-mate, played by Elsa Houben) in central roles, a woman director, two women as writers, and the director of photography and the production designer also being women too. Some other characters are female too, making the cast almost entirely female dominated. The theme, however, is not entirely feminist, delving into gender-neutral issues like depression, ambition and ruthlessly ambitious parenting.

Barrage opened on February 10 at the Berlin Film Festival 2017 Forum, a lucky break I would hazard. Shot in an almost square aspect ratio, the proceedings make you wonder why was there so little footage allotted to the grand-mother’s character, though references to her are aplenty. Besides some fast and jumpy cutting points, the narrative drags and crawls, making some scenes un-sit-through-able. Once you get through that bobbing urge to leave the auditorium in escape, slack goings on pick up speed, making it a not so bad second half after all.

Performances as a rule are methodical, with a pregnant pause before each piece of dialogue. The star pairing of French actresses does no wonders, and the two children go through the motions systematically, without any ‘wows’ anywhere.

Worth a mention is the scene where they talk about the name Agathe (agate/Agatha) and the several occasions when Alba practices her exercise regimen, including a back rest-bent knee position, which is repeated a couple of times. Another impressive bit of cinema is the ambivalent way in which the girl and her mother react to the accidental death of her pet dog. In the end, all added-up equals exquisite ennui (French for boredom). Exquisite, but, boredom, nevertheless.

Rating: **




About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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